"A Fire Upon the Deep" Group Discussion

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"A Fire Upon the Deep" Group Discussion

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1rojse
Feb. 12, 2009, 7:28pm

Post your thoughts and opinions on the book selected for the fourth group discussion, A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge.

2LolaWalser
Feb. 13, 2009, 10:55am

First four chapters down, I'm liking it a lot. I would've been delighted if Peregrine and Scriber had turned out to be something even fancier than a pack-person (an assemblage of sentient stuff along the lines of a Rube Goldberg contraption), but not complaining.

3BigJoel55
Feb. 16, 2009, 7:31am

I have about eight chapters down and so far I'm impressed. As Lola mentions, the pack mentality is an interesting idea, and well presented. It took me a few pages to figure it out.

The zones of thought reality of Vinge's universe is also mind-bending (as I'm sure its meant to be ... ). It will be intriguing to see how it all works out.

Overall the premise seems very ambitious, introducing several major speculative concepts.

4geneg
Feb. 16, 2009, 9:35am

I'm about 2/3 through with this book and it has slowed down considerably. At this point it's like a lot of world building with no place to go. All the new ideas are maturing, but not currently accomplishing much. Maybe it's the calm before the storm.

It's getting harder to pick up and easier to put down.

Is this part of a series?

5iansales
Feb. 16, 2009, 9:50am

No, but there is a loose sequel, A Deepness in the sky.

6bobmcconnaughey
Bearbeitet: Feb. 18, 2009, 3:59pm

w/out looking it up..i thought i recalled A Deepness in the Sky being a prequel?
and having looked it up, it is a prequel.
....
rereading my 1992 copy of FUtD makes me appreciate the difference in physical quality between trade and mass market paperbacks!~ My Vinge books are all mass market and in a few more years i suspect i'd start to have an asthmatic attack trying to read my copy.

It does slow down noticeably in the middle as Gene observed. Now ~ @ page 400

7LolaWalser
Feb. 19, 2009, 2:21pm

I finished it, but I have to admit--I skimmed most of those Courier-fonted newsgroups messages.

I didn't care for the Ravna/Pham side of the story as much as for the Tines, not nearly.

So the Blight is like some kind of... software virus? At least, Vinge seems to have been inspired by teh internets (fairly young at the time, at least to the general public), the whole electronic information-managing aspect, gigantic databases, perhaps the idea of emergent artificial intelligence from all the bits, and of course the idea of genetic material as software program--a sadly deficient analogy, as we know today.

To me the Tines make this story. Good read.

8geneg
Bearbeitet: Feb. 19, 2009, 2:42pm

I just finished it too. I liked the first two hundred or so pages very much, the non-uniformity of empty space, the pack with one superego, the palm trees on wheels. The second two hundred pages, the chase from Relay to the bottom was rather drawn out and in some places downright boring. The interminable preparations for battle on the Tines world were boring, as well. When reading the chase I found myself wishing I were back with Amdijefri and Johanna and Pilgrim. When on the tines world I couldn't help wondering what new hijinks was happening aboard the Out of Band. I was never happy with where I was. The last two hundred pages were mostly riveting non-stop action and I completed them in an afternoon.

As I mentioned in another thread, I had a breakthru in how "Proper Literature" differs from genre while reading this book. It has to do with the interior lives of the characters. The only character that came within shouting distance of an interior life was Steel and that purely unintentional.

I enjoyed it in spurts, would recommend it to someone interested in SF, as genre fiction would give it 4 stars, but overall just 3.5 because of the lack of interiority of the characters.

9bobmcconnaughey
Feb. 19, 2009, 4:24pm

I think Vinge's great achievements are his societal creations: esp. the tines & the various levels of "machine society" (which is why I found the newsgroup posts interesting (if dated!)). FUtD also IS a good, classic large scale SF space opera - too large as there was too much down time as the various groups sought to create alliances to kill all earthlings and their friends; save earthlovers everywhere, if possible; save the intelligences that had come to inhere in various levels of the universe no matter what that cost to various societies.

I KNOW it's required for different species to communicate w/ a lingua franca of sorts; but i am always surprised at how easy it seems to be - the universe as one big mall. That's what made the Tines and Jefri and Johanna learning to communicate w/ each other one of the best done bits throughout the book. I liked the plotting and counterplotting w/in the Tines culture as they cope w/ the possibilities inherent in near instant techno-upgrades.

I think Gene's aha moment about the nature of interiority of characters' lives and action and interaction is a v. good one. He thought it obvious, but i hadn't really thought of the differences between "genre" and "literary" works in that way. As w/ all dichotomies there are going to be exceptions, but as a general rule it seems awfully sensible - or at least a very good feature to keep in mind while reading anything.

"GodShatter" seems a pretty cheesy dues ex machina device - although that's exactly what it is portrayed as. But a damn easy way to save a world in the nick of time.

I'd have to open the book back up - i'll do that this evening - but there were whole sections in the 3rd quarter of the book, esp. that could have been excised.

All the same - i'd still recommend the book, esp. to high school kids wanting to try something SF on a big scale. I know our son read it in jr high and liked it a lot. And i didn't mind rereading it again. I didn't have the sense of revulsion that i had for force my way thru w/ Gene Wolfe's book, for sure! And, unlike the last book, there's no question that FUtDeep flows in a major SF channel.

My ratings would be identical to Gene's - but as i'd rate it as genre, i'll give it 4 LT stars. (i'll have to see if i've already rated it earlier)

10CD1am
Feb. 21, 2009, 5:25pm

I'm only at the start of chapter seven, and am enjoying it. Definitely had trouble figuring out what the tines were. Early on when it talked about moving/sliding or whatever from hummock to hummock, and then having different parts, I thought it was an amoeba type creature that could physically engulf others to make them part of a whole, so was really surprised when the tines turned out to be wolf packs.

Altho I'm enjoying it and find many of the concepts interesting, it's still an easy book to put down, so I'm not sure how I'll react when the book slows down as others have indicated.

11bobmcconnaughey
Feb. 21, 2009, 8:44pm

chatted w/ my non-virtual hiking/reading friend, Mike (we've known each other well since grad school ~ 1980, and have traded books far too many times to mention) while enjoying a lovely day, walking the White Pines nature reserve this morning, about FuTD. His one sentence take was that there were far too many battle scenes and the book could've lost 1/4 of its pages to the reader's benefit. Though we talked about the book for a while longer than his summary would indicate.

12LolaWalser
Feb. 26, 2009, 11:10am

#9

the Tines and Jefri and Johanna learning to communicate w/ each other one of the best done bits throughout the book.

Oh, absolutely! I just loved the episode of Woodcarver and others fiddling with Johanna's pink laptop and getting to the kiddie language program. Everything in the Tines world delighted me--no problem with battles either. The tension between Flenser's and Thyratect's natures in the Fragment, the scary Lord Steel who has to pretend he's a good guy to Amdi and Jefri, the curious Woodcarver and her 600-year old mind/self--the idea that a self is formed from composite memories of past generations--all this was wonderful.

13Aerrin99
Feb. 26, 2009, 3:31pm

Just finished this last night, after a rather long 10 or so days spent reading - it stopped my book every two or three days run flat, for some reason.

I /liked/ the book well enough while I was reading it, but I could never seem to make myself care to open it up again while I wasn't, so it only got read on lunch breaks.

I think earlier statements are right on - The pace of the book was awkward, and none of the characters were especially compelling, but the general overall, the world and the ideas, were really interesting.

The concept of space as an un-uniform thing is really fascinating, and I feel like in better hands, this could have been the setting for a lot of fantastic stories. More, I loved the image of entire civilizations and races coming and going, the real /scale/ of things. The talk of eons as if they were decades. It put things in a different scope, and the contrast of some of the newsposts, the deaths on Sanjdra Kei, and Ravna's desperation to save a single human boy were really neat-- in theory. I do wish I'd been made to care about them a bit more.

I also appreciated the variety and the alieness of the aliens. I loved the discussion of strengths and weaknesses, the creativity of life so different from ours not just in appearance, but in outright function. I suspect that this is maybe what Vinge loved best, in restrospect, because he spends a lot of time having the Packs wish for hands and heads that think by themselves, etc.

My final complaint is that, frankly, if I'm going to spend a whole book reading about a STRUGGLE, then I want a WIN. I don't mind some death with my win, but wow, I'd like it to be at least a /little/ less depressing. There were several 'almost-- almost! oh no, it turned out badly!' moments in the book that drove me nuts. Scriber, Tyrathect, episodes with Pham, the Riders... to have the only real win be attributed to, as someone mentioned before, a deus ex machina, was frustrating. I kind of want to see my heroes being heroes, in a story that's about their battle.

14geneg
Feb. 27, 2009, 6:26pm

So, do you all think earth benefits by being in the slowness? Or would we be better off in the Beyond?

15rojse
Feb. 28, 2009, 2:15am

A Fire Upon the Deep didn't really work for me. After an excellent prologue (quite a lot of information in so few pages), it suddenly shifted action to a completely different problem, barely related to the prologue, and I didn't really care about the situation at all. Crash-landing on an alien planet should be it's own sub-genre, and the unique perspective from the alien didn't really make up for this.

16richardderus
Feb. 28, 2009, 1:04pm

I have no idea why this book is considered a classic. I found it completely unreadable after about p90, and gave up. Dull writing. Premise, at least that far, uninteresting. Just not worth another heart-beat.

17CD1am
Mrz. 2, 2009, 3:42pm

Wow, do I disagree with some of the recent postings. After a slow start, I really liked this book. I found the characters believable, and I really cared what happened to most of them. At the beginning, the jumping around was distracting, but once I got into it, I found each story line interesting. And I never did feel like the book slowed down 1/2 to 2/3s thru, as Geneg and Bob said earlier (#s 4, 6).

I also thought the ending fit. What would an adventurer like Pham do trapped on tineworld?

Of the aliens, the ones that didn't work for me were the tusk leg people. I couldn't even visualize them, and didn't think Vinge described them well. I thought his evil butterfly people was an interesting touch, their nature so contrary to our perception of butterflies.

One question I was curious about was the lifespan of humans in the beyond. The plant people had been together for 200 years, and the tines "souls" or memories lasted at least a thousand years, unless they died by violence, but the only humans in the story were either children or adults who all seemed within child-bearing age.

18iansales
Mrz. 3, 2009, 8:06am

Have just started this. Should be done by Monday.

19Aerrin99
Mrz. 4, 2009, 8:17am

I also wondered about the lifespan of humans - and to some extent, you have to wonder whether the scientific 'crippling' of never being able to work collectively due to the intruding thoughts that the Tines experienced wasn't maybe a little offset by the fact that each individual lived hundreds of years...

Is physically-close collaboration really /that/ important? Especially when compared to a long view that humans could clearly never have?

20iansales
Mrz. 4, 2009, 8:24am

About about 20% of the way in. First thoughts:-

* the early Internet-based model of interest groups and packets and "Relay" worked back in the early 1990s, but it's been left behind by the real world

* the Tines look like dogs... so why how could they build castles? in fact, why would they build castles? They'd build bunkers. And rooms with low ceilings. They'd also have trouble building boats. Their mouths are their manipulators - so how do they caulk the hulls then? Poison themselves in the process?

* there's still an impressive grandeur to the book's underlying concept. It doesn't have the gosh-wow it had when I read it 15 years ago, but it's still an important novel.

21geneg
Mrz. 4, 2009, 8:33am

One problem I have is reckoning the passage of time away from earth. Time is reckoned using uniquely geocentric tools. How would one measure seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years on extraterrestrial worlds? With chronometers based on earth time? How?

For the purposes of this book and relative life spans I suspect this is way overthinking a problem that does not really exist for the characters, but nevertheless, it's hard to talk about time without establishing the parameters.

22LolaWalser
Mrz. 4, 2009, 10:32am

How would one measure seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years on extraterrestrial worlds? With chronometers based on earth time? How?

Every "locality" would have its own, local time, locally measured (presumably) similarly to how we decide to measure the passage of time on Earth--for instance, currently, the second is defined as an x (sorry, don't remember the exact number) number of periods of radiation between two transitional states of a cesium isotope. Mayhap it wouldn't be cesium elsewhere, but let's say that's one ground idea.

And remember, time and space are relative--measuring them "absolutely" is impossible--you always need to define a reference system, and all the measurements proceed from these relative, local parameters.

23geneg
Mrz. 4, 2009, 12:00pm

Another problem with measuring time on the Tines world is that they are at the bottom of the beyond. What impact might that have on time measurement? It seems to play havoc with other aspects of electromagnetism, might it not also have an impact on the atomic forces involved in cesium deterioration?

If each local system has its own parameters for time measurement without some gauge we can't know how different they might be. A hundred years on the Tines world might be 5, 10, 20 or more years in Earth terms. In fact, I kind of get the impression earth is considered a third rate world deep in the slowness. Not the kind of place one would choose to use for precedent, particularly in the beyond.

24GwenH
Mrz. 5, 2009, 12:09pm

Well shoot. I'm finally able to start this book which I'd pulled from my shelves earlier. Now I can't find it in the piles of books I have around. I've checked and my local library has a copy, but this is silly. One more sweep and I'm off to the library.

I scanned the posts enough to have some misgivings - sounds like there are some complaints and disappointments. Still, I'll have a go at it. (and probably post on it after everyone has moved on) :)

25geneg
Mrz. 5, 2009, 12:32pm

Most of my comments about this book are relatively minor. I enjoyed it. It was a fun read, even the slowness of the post-Harmonious Repose chase fit with the theme of the action, racing to the bottom, heading deeper toward the slowness. Don't be afraid of the book. It's a fun read.

26billiejean
Bearbeitet: Mrz. 6, 2009, 11:10am

I finally finished the book. I really enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed the tines world and the way the packs thought and worked together as one being, plus the way they added members when necessary. And I liked the relationship of amdijefri.

I never understood the beginning with the Old One and the hogging of the data of the archive until the very end, which maybe is just me. I don't really read that much scifi, which is why I wanted to join this group! :)

I wanted a little more info on the Blight. I did not entirely understand how it worked. Plus I wasn't sure why Beyond equipment would not work in Slowness. This was important to the story.

Overall, I thought it was a great story, and I thought that the different ability levels of the different worlds made it all the more interesting.
--BJ
Edited to put in left out word.

27geneg
Mrz. 6, 2009, 5:01pm

The problem with Beyond technology in the Slowness stems from the fact that the physics of the two zones is different. In the Beyond the speed of light is not a hard and fast limit as it is in the Slow. It's the idea that physics in the universe is not uniform.

We think the speed of light and other physical phenomena impact matter the same throughout the universe. The zones play havoc with this notion.

28CD1am
Mrz. 6, 2009, 5:18pm

For those who have read the prequel, A Deepness in the Sky, does the person who's memories become Pham's in Fire appear in the prequel as part of the Qeng Ho? Or is this before his time?

29billiejean
Mrz. 6, 2009, 6:08pm

#27 Thanks. :)
--BJ

30iansales
Mrz. 10, 2009, 5:50am

Right. Finished it. Here's my thoughts...

It was a shame the plot devolved into a chase story. And a padded out one too. Liked the Tines- - thought the idea of the pack mind was very clever. The "Net of a Million Lies" didn't work for me at all. It was just a tarted-up USENET, and as a result read as though dominated by the rhetorical tactics of a particular group of people. For all the zillions of civilisations mentioned in passing in the book, their only strangeness was in appearance. Countermeasure was a bit of a fudge - nothing works in the Slow Zone except - oh, look! - Countermeasure. Have to admit, tho, what it did was pretty cool. The book suffered from problems of scale - everything was in millions and billions, but there was no real sense of this. Millions of civilisations, billions of years... And I never really got that sense of vast size and antiquity from the story.

31GwenH
Bearbeitet: Mrz. 14, 2009, 11:40am

So far I'm finding this book slow going, but I can't exactly pinpoint why. The pack mentality was interesting. It made me think of the Borg except that the smaller size of the pack made for more profound implications when an individual was lost. It was a real effort to make a truly alien alien.

I found the jumping around at the beginning a bit annoying. Too little about each character for me to care what happens to any of them yet.

I can tell this book is going to take me a while to finish. It's interesting enough that I don't want to completely set it aside, but there's a chance that it's the wrong book at the wrong time. (This is a reflection on me, not the book. The first time I picked up "The Left Hand of Darkness" I wasn't in the mood for that either.)

32GwenH
Mrz. 15, 2009, 9:39pm

I'm still struggling through this a few pages at a time. It's been awhile since I've read a book that feels so much like it's missing some explanations that should be there after awhile.

For instance, I see the map at the beginning, but even after many references to the various zones, I'm still totally confused as to what these zones actually are and how they came to be. I get that travel is faster or slower, and that intelligence seems to be affected. But I'm getting annoyed at the book. It's not written like it's supposed to be a mystery for the reader to solve, but that's what it feels like.

The other part I can't seem to picture is where it's taking place. Particularly where these "docks" are. First I thought they were space docks, then there's references to a sea, then the gal is on a beach with waves lapping at her feet so maybe it really is a sea, then there's talk of zero gravity so maybe its in space.

Yipes....usually I don't have any issues with setting scenes up in my head and developing a framework for the "rules" of the books reality.

33billiejean
Mrz. 16, 2009, 12:14am

I think that the docks are floating like enormous satellites and that the beach is built onto the satellite. I found this part confusing as well.
--BJ